Clare Margason, MPA ’17

J-Term Practica, 2016

Bhutan’s Vibrant Energy

Bhutan is one of the most peaceful and serene countries I have had the privilege of visiting. There is something truly special about the physical and spiritual geography of the small Himalayan kingdom that you can feel almost immediately upon arrival. This sense of spiritual well-being is what I remember most from my time there, and I am doing my best to find it again in California.Even with a packed itinerary that allowed us to delve into a variety of rights and environmental justice to free education and health policies, I never felt overwhelmed, stressed, or tired while in Bhutan. I certainly wished I could stay longer and learn more about the country’s public policies and cultural practices, but I was impressed with how much we were able to see and experience in such a short amount of time and was equally impressed with the way the country seemed to be an abundant energy source for me. I felt fascinated, energized, and excited throughout the entirety of the trip, and am very hopeful I will have the chance to return one day.Some aspects of the trip that stand out to me include our time in the dzongs, where we had the opportunity to wander about freely and take in all the beautiful Buddhist-themed art motifs and occasionally meet young monks. At one such dzong in the Phobjika Valley, Professor Black and I had the chance to talk with a novice who had just arrived at the monastery the week before. Through our conversation, we were able to learn about his lifestyle and beliefs. This will always be a special memory because it enhanced my interest in Buddhist philosophy.Although the school and health systems in Bhutan are secular, it would be impossible to say that there is not a strong Buddhist influence on everything that transpires in the country. I don’t know if this is the reason behind the overwhelming sense of peace that I felt while I was there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with it. For this reasons, I have decided to dedicate my research for the BhutanPractica course at MIIS to the influences of Buddhism in Bhutan’s public policy. I am hopeful to learn more about how spirituality and the science of looking inwards affect compassion and empathy – especially among the Bhutanese ruling elite who are actually developing and writing policy.

This research is helping me stay connected to the sense of well-being that I mentioned before, but I still have a lot of work to do before I would venture to call myself a Buddhist. One book that has been especially informative, and that I would recommend to anyone who is interested inBuddhism, and more specifically – Bhutanese Buddhism, is “WhatMakes You Not a Buddhist” by Bhutanese lama, author and filmmaker, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyente. If you can’t make a trip to Bhutan to see and feel its unique spiritual characteristics, this book would be a good place to start.

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